Logo of the Commission

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (TLHRC) is a bipartisan body of the United States House of Representatives. Its stated mission is "to promote, defend and advocate internationally recognized human rights norms in a nonpartisan manner, both within and outside of Congress, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other relevant human rights instruments."[1]

The Commission was formed out of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 2008, following the death of Tom Lantos, with the passage of H.Res.1451, the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Establishment Resolution.[2] Through this mandate, the Commission became a formal body of the House which serves to provide educational and advisory services to Members of Congress, coordinate human rights initiatives in the House, and communicate with the Executive branch as well as international human rights entities to facilitate human rights initiatives in Congress.[3] The Commission is nonpartisan and is led by two co-chairs, one Democrat and one Republican. The current co-chairs are Congressmen Jim McGovern and Chris Smith.[4]

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is not a national human rights institution (NHRI). The United States does not currently have such an institution.[5] Some duties typical of an NHRI are conducted by the Department of State and Department of Justice.[6][7]

Congressional Human Rights Caucus (1983–2008)


Tom Lantos, co-founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus

The Congressional Human Rights Caucus was founded in 1983 by Tom Lantos, a California Democrat, and John Porter, an Illinois Republican.[1] Lantos was Hungarian by birth and had the distinction of being the only Holocaust survivor ever to serve in Congress.[8]

In 1987, the caucus invited the 14th Dalai Lama to speak about the situation of Tibet. It was the first formal invitation to the Dalai Lama from a U.S. government organization.[9] Lantos later alleged that two Tibetan nationalists were executed by China in retaliation for this visit.[10]

On 31 October 2005, Lantos and the caucus helped arrange for Shan Burmese activist Charm Tong to visit the White House to discuss the Burmese political situation with President George W. Bush, National Security Advisor Stephen J. Hadley, and other senior officials.[11][12] Charm Tong spoke with Bush about war rape and other women's rights issues in her home of Shan State. Following the meeting, Lantos predicted that Charm Tong's 50 minutes with Bush "would reverberate around the world".[11] The Irrawaddy wrote in December of that year that lobbyists were attributing Bush's subsequent "outspokenness on Burma" to "the Charm Tong Effect".[13][14]

In 2006, the caucus held hearings on the alleged collaboration of Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, and Cisco with Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China.[15] Members of the caucus asserted that the companies had agreed to block "politically sensitive terms" from their search engines.[15] The companies refused to attend the hearings.[15] A year later, Lantos excoriated CEO Jerry Yang for Yahoo's aiding the Chinese government in the arrest of dissident journalist Shi Tao, calling Yang and other executives "[moral] pygmies".[16]

"Nurse Nayirah" incident

See also: Nurse Nayirah

Lantos was a strong supporter of the 1991 Persian Gulf War. During the run-up to the war, the Congressional Human Rights Caucus hosted a young Kuwaiti woman identified only as "Nurse Nayirah", who told of horrific abuses by Iraqi soldiers, including the killing of Kuwaiti babies by taking them out of their incubators and leaving them to die on the cold floor of the hospital. Nayirah's testimony was widely publicized.[17] That night, portions of the testimony aired on ABC's Nightline and NBC Nightly News reaching an estimated audience between 35 and 53 million Americans.[18][19] Seven senators cited Nayirah's testimony in their speeches backing the use of force.[17] President George H.W. Bush repeated the story at least ten times in the following weeks,[17] and Lantos himself argued that Nayirah's account of the atrocities helped to stir American opinion in favor of participation in the Gulf War.[20]

The girl's account was later challenged by independent human rights monitors.[20] "Nurse Nayirah" later turned out to be the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States.[20] Asked about his having allowed the girl to give testimony without identifying herself, and without her story having been corroborated, Lantos replied, "The notion that any of the witnesses brought to the caucus through the Kuwaiti Embassy would not be credible did not cross my mind... I have no basis for assuming that her story is not true, but the point goes beyond that. If one hypothesizes that the woman's story is fictitious from A to Z, that in no way diminishes the avalanche of human rights violations."[20]

Lantos and John R. MacArthur, the foremost critic of the Nayirah issue, each had op-eds in The New York Times, in which each accused the other of distortion.[21] MacArthur suggested that Lantos may have materially benefited from his having accommodated Nayirah.[22] Nayirah was later revealed to have connections to lobbying firm Hill & Knowlton in the employ of Kuwaiti activist group Citizens for a Free Kuwait, a lobbying firm which also rented space to the Human Rights Caucus at a "reduced rate".[22] The New York Times condemned Lantos's "lack of candor and lapse of judgment" in presenting her testimony without giving these facts as context, and called for a hearing by the House Ethics Committee.[22]

Caucus leadership

Term start Term end Chair Co-Chair
1983 1995 Tom Lantos (D-CA) John Porter (R-IL)
1995 2001 John Porter (R-IL) Tom Lantos (D-CA)
2001 2007 Frank Wolf (R-VA)
2007 2008 Tom Lantos (D-CA) Frank Wolf (R-VA)

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission (2008–Present)

Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the 118th United States Congress

Congressional institutionalization

Following Lantos's death from cancer in 2008, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated a bill to reform the caucus as the "Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission"; the bill passed unanimously.[1][23] The passage of H.R.1451 established the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and its mandate.

As established in H.R.1451:

The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission is a unique body in the House of Representatives, and its function as established in the resolution is notably different from other commissions in the United States Congress, such as the Congressional-Executive Commission on China or the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. Though the resolution states that the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission must collaborate with the Senate and the Executive branch, the Commission itself is composed only of Members of the House of Representatives. Members are not appointed to the Commission, but are able to join by request at any time, similar to a caucus. The Commission also does not compile an annual report. It is the only body in the House of Representatives that is intended to frame all issues through the lens of international human rights norms.

Similarly, there are significant differences between the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and committees in the House of Representatives. Most notably, the nonpartisan structure of the Commission grants both parties equal power within the Commission, regardless of which side is in the majority or minority. Unlike a committee which has a Chair from the majority and a Ranking Member from the minority, the Commission is led by two Co-Chairs who have equal say. The leadership of the Commission is composed of one Co-Chair and four Executive Committee Members from each party. The two Co-Chairs and eight Members of the Executive Committee are appointed by the Speaker and Minority Leader.[1]

Historical leadership

Term Democratic Co-Chair Republican Co-Chair
110th Congress Jim McGovern (D-MA) Frank Wolf (R-VA)
112th Congress
113th Congress
114th Congress Joe Pitts (R-PA)
115th Congress Randy Hultgren (R-IL)
116th Congress Chris Smith (R-NJ)
117th Congress
118th Congress

Executive Committee Members, 117th Congress

Majority Minority


Historical executive committee membership

116th Congress

Majority Minority

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "About the Committee". Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
  2. ^ "H.Res.1451 - Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission Establishment Resolution". Congress.gov. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  3. ^ "Mission". Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. US House of Representatives. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  4. ^ "Co-Chairs". Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. US House of Representatives. Retrieved 18 May 2023.
  5. ^ "Safeguarding Democracy: US should establish a national human rights institution". Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2023-08-04.
  6. ^ "About Us – Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor". United States Department of State. Retrieved 2023-08-04.
  7. ^ "Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section (HRSP)". www.justice.gov. 2015-03-25. Retrieved 2023-08-04.
  8. ^ Louis Sandy Maisel; et al. (2001). Jews in American Politics. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9780742501812. Retrieved May 21, 2011. "The only Holocaust survivor to serve in the United States Congress, Tom Lantos was born February 1, 1928, in Budapest. Just 16 years old when the Nazis invaded Hungary, Lantos was active in the underground resistance before he was imprisoned in a Nazi labor camp in Hungary." p. 370.
  9. ^ "Dalai Lama briefs US House groups on China, human rights". savetibet.org. 23 October 2009. Archived from the original on 2 June 2011. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
  10. ^ Edward A. Gargan (October 1, 1987). "Chinese Report Protest By Lamas to Free Tibet". New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2011.
  11. ^ a b Warren Vieth (13 November 2005). "Personal Tales of Struggle Resonate With President". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  12. ^ "President George W. Bush welcomes activist Charm Tong of Burma to the Oval Office, Monday, Oct. 31, 2005, at the White House in Washington. White House photo by Eric Draper". georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov. Retrieved 2019-05-31.
  13. ^ "The Faces of Burma 2005". The Irrawaddy. December 2005. Archived from the original on 23 January 2011. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  14. ^ "US to Intensify Pressure on Burma". The Irrawaddy. January 2006. Archived from the original on 25 December 2010. Retrieved 2 May 2011.
  15. ^ a b c "Internet firms 'bowed to Beijing'". BBC News. February 2, 2006. Retrieved May 21, 2011.
  16. ^ "Yahoo Criticized in Case of Jailed Dissident". New York Times. Associated Press. November 7, 2007. Retrieved 2009-04-19. 'While technologically and financially you are giants, morally you are pygmies,' Tom Lantos, Democrat of California and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said angrily after hearing from the two executives, Jerry Yang, the chief executive, and Michael J. Callahan, the general counsel.
  17. ^ a b c Walton, Douglas (1995). "Appeal to pity: A case study of theargumentum ad misericordiam" (PDF). Argumentation. 9 (5): 769–784. doi:10.1007/BF00744757. ISSN 0920-427X. S2CID 18245372.
  18. ^ Sriramesh, Krishnamurthy (January 10, 2009). The global public relations handbook: theory, research, and practice. Taylor & Francis. pp. 864–865. ISBN 978-0-415-99513-9.
  19. ^ Rowse, Ted (September 1992). "Kuwaitgate - killing of Kuwaiti babies by Iraqi soldiers exaggerated". The Washington Monthly.
  20. ^ a b c d Krauss, Clifford (January 12, 1992). "Congressman Says Girl Was Credible". The New York Times.
  21. ^ Kuwaiti Gave Consistent Account of Atrocities, The New York Times. January 27, 1992
  22. ^ a b c Deception on Capitol Hill, The New York Times. January 15, 1992
  23. ^ "– Rep. Tom Lantos of California dies at 80". Cnn.com. 2008-02-11. Retrieved 2010-06-15.
  24. ^ "Executive Committee". Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission. 2015-09-10. Retrieved 2022-11-21.